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Musicals of 1978

Ain’t Misbehavin’ was a very successful musical that transferred to the Manhattan Theatre Club and has been revived numerous times since. The music is by Fats Waller.

Angel was an unsuccessful musical based on the popular book, play, and movie Look Homeward, Angel. It was not a good sign that rather than appear in a standard tryout theatre in Philadelphia or Boston, it tried out in North Port Long Island, home of Patti Lupone. The score was certainly above average, written by the team who had done Shenandoah very successfully, Gary Geld and Peter Udell. It starred Fred Gwynne from the Munsters, Francis Sternhagan, and Don Scardino (who also appeared in our recording of the King of Hearts). The show just did not catch on and only lasted a few weeks. It was however recorded by the producer Phil Rose, and we have made this LP into a CDR which is available for purchase.
Click here to see our listing for Angel.

The Ballroom, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, was a followup to his Chorus Line. Written by the Bergmans and Billy Goldenberg, it starred Dorothy Loudon and was a tribute to ballroom dancing and older people who frequented dance halls in the 50s and 60s. It tried out in Stratford, Connecticut which is very near to where I live so I saw the first performance. It had been done successfully on television but the Broadway version was too much to me standard dancing and did not appeal to all generations.

The Bar Mitsvah Boy opened in London and was based on a popular tv straight play. It debuted in London and was written by Jule Styne and Don Black. Don Black, as usual, did not add anything appealing to this musical and even Jule did not show any great inspiration. So the show played a very brief occasion and did not come to New York as I’m sure Jule hoped it would.

Barbary Coast, was a musical that started in California and did not get sufficient reviews to arrive in New York as was originally scheduled.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, by Carol Hall, started off-off-Broadway and within months opened on Broadway. The musical was really made successful by Tommy Tune in his first major directing role. It ran for several years and was made into a Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds movie.

Billy Bishop Goes To War had a little success in its Canadian production but again was not successful on Broadway.

A Broadway Musical, by Strouse and Adams, started inauspiciously. This musical did not have enough money or interest to open out of town, so they tried to do a downsized version at Riverside Church. It at least enabled them to raise money to do it at the Lunt-Fontanne and to get a new director, Gower Champion… but the material was not that worthwhile and the show closed opening night.

Dancin’ was a Bob Fosse musical of very appealing dance numbers and had a long and successful run.

Eubie started at AMAS. It was a musical tribute to Eubie Blake and starred Gregory Hines. It ran for one season.

Evita by Rice and Webber started as a concept album following Jesus Christ Superstar. It debuted in England and starred Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. It was very excitingly directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Larry Fuller. It was an instant success and the start of Patti Lupone’s historic career. It was made into a not-so-great Madonna movie.

King of Hearts tried out in Westport, Connecticut, 20 minutes away from me, and starred Robbie Benson who did many teenage movie musicals and years later played the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. It was about a 19 year old boy who goes off to France and gets involved in the war against Germany. It had music by Peter Link and lyrics by Jacob Brackman, who wrote many pop songs including some of Carly Simon’s hits. Westport County Playhouse is probably a 400 seat theatre so they felt that Robbie Benson would not have a big enough voice to play Minskoff Theatre, which probably has 1800 seats.
Since everybody on a Broadway stage is mic’d, this to me did not seem the best decision. He was replaced by Don Scardino, which did a good job with the part but he should not have played a 19 year old boy. I loved the music enough to approach Peter Link and he said we could record the album in his apartment. Intrigued, asked how. He told me that it wouldn’t be all at one time. We could record the instruments a few at a time and even bring the singers in different groups. This actually worked out nicely and I’m very proud of the final result. I highly recommend this for purchase.

On the Twentieth Century by Cy Coleman and Comden and Green, starred John Collum and Madeline Kahn. It tried out in Boston and on my way from CT to Boston there was unfortunately a big, sudden snow storm and I was in an accident. I had stopped my car and a grocery store delivery truck barreled into me. My wife Doris was somewhat injured and I was never able to complete the trip to Boston. But I did see the final production in NY. I thought the first part of the show was brilliant where they gave the impression that you were on a real train. But the music turned into a not-so-good operetta. Imogene Coca as a crazed evangelist was not my taste or at all amusing. The show did have a decent run and was even revived by Kristin Chenoweth.

My One and Only was a revival with changes in the book of an early Gershwin show. It was directed by Tommy Tune. It was in danger of closing after not getting great reviews in Boston but Tommy, Peter Stone, and Maury Yeston made major changes in the Gershwin songs and dance numbers, and when it opened in NY with Twiggy as Tommy’s costar it proved to be most delightful and had a successful two year run.

Platinum Starring Alexis Smith

Platinum, by Gary William Friedman and Will Holt, started originally in Buffalo, and at that time was titled Sunset and directed by Tommy Tune. To get it to Broadway, they got involved with Paramount pictures and got Joe Layton as the director. Alexis Smith was really great as a former movie star trying to fit in with the 60’s pop scene but her rock-n-roll younger boyfriend was not at all appealing and I find it hard to believe that the real Alexis Smith would have had anything to do with him. Despite some very catchy songs, it had a short run in New York.

Runaways by Liz Swados, about young children who runaway from home, started at the Papp Theatre downtown. It probably should not have moved to Broadway where it had a very brief run.

They’re Playing Our Song, by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, was a musical written about the songwriters’ relationship. This had a very funny book by Neil Simon and starred Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein. The only other people in the show were backup singers. It ran for a couple years.

Timbuktu was a reworking of Kisbet by Wright and Forrest, making it into a black musical starring Eartha Kitt. The original book to Kisbet is not terribly strong but the songs and the original performers made it into a hit. Somehow the reworking lost quite a bit of its appeal and it ran at the Mark Hellinger for only about a month.

Working was written by Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, and Mary Rodgers. Stephen decided to take the Studs Terkel book where he interviewed people in the common, every day, blue-collar, occupations. These stories were made into songs that were not necessarily the actual stories that Studs Terkel told in the book. To me while some of the songs are very appealing, some of the stories are not as equally appealing. In recent times it has been revised and a few new songs have been written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and that makes people seem to be happier about remaking the show. It was redone recently in England and is usually done in high schools.

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